AP Photo/Jens Meyer
A bark beetle crawls along a tree trunk in the Thuringian Forest near Ziegenrueck, Germany, Monday, July 30, 2007. The excessive heat has not only dried out the trees, it's also provided ideal conditions for tree-damaging pests, such as the bark beetle, to multiply faster. Bark beetles eat their way deep inside the tree's trunk, weakening it from the inside.
David McNew/Getty Images
Pine forests can be seen among hazy ridges as increasing humidity and heat set the stage for lightning storms which could ignite flammable beetle-infested forests July 24, 2003 near Lake Arrowhead, California. Southern California's native pines are being wiped-out by exploding populations of several species of bark beetles, a result of four years of the worst recorded drought since records began in 1849. Infected forests are expected to lose at least 75 to 95 percent of their trees creating unprecedented wildfire danger in the 'ghost forests' of dead trees.
For more than 10 years, the tiny bark beetle has ravaged San Bernardino County, turning vast swaths of forest areas into potentially devastating wildfire spots. But this week, county supervisors voted to end the emergency proclamation they had renewed monthly since September 2002.
More rain and a concerted effort to curb the outbreak on the part of forest management , with the help of federal and state funds, has resulted in healthier trees, which already have a natural defense against the bark-chomping critters.
"The beetle is part of the native ecosystem up in the local mountains, because of a protracted drought we had a lot of trees that became very susceptible to the insect and we went into a major outbreak," said Timothy Paine, professor of entomology at UC Riverside. "As a result, around one-third of the conifers in the San Bernardino mountains were killed by the beetle."
Forest workers were able to identify trees that had become infested and remove them before the beetles had a chance to multiply. While the beetles have been controlled for now, they have not been completely eliminated, nor should they be, according to Paine.
"They're part of a natural cycle and they'll be back, but one of the consequences of removing all of those trees is there are fewer trees in the forest," said Paine. "That may sound like a problem, but in terms of protecting the forest, thats a good thing. There's more water available for the trees that are left, they're not in competition and so they are going to be able to resist the insects."